It’s getting cold out there, but you won’t have to freeze to death in the dark if you have trouble paying your heating bill this winter.
Friday marked the first day of the year for the Cold Weather Rule, a Kansas Corporation Commission policy that prevents electricity and gas companies from shutting off service for those who fall behind on winter utility bills.
The rule “ensures Kansans can keep warm during winter months,” KCC Chairman Mark Sievers said in a statement announcing the annual onset of the rule’s provisions. This year marks the 30th year the rule has been in effect.
Sievers suggested people take action now to make their homes more energy efficient and help them avoid going in debt to the utilities.
“Making sure heating equipment is in good working order, keeping your thermostat at reasonable levels, weather-stripping and caulking windows and doorways – these things can cut down on heating costs,” he said.
The Cold Weather Rule “is one of the most important protections we have to protect the safety of Kansans,” said David Springe, chief consumer counsel of the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board, the state agency that represents residential utility customers.
He praised the KCC for having the policy, which helps prevent dangerous behavior by people desperate to heat their homes.
Springe said the fear is that people without utility service will try to heat their homes using cookstoves, unvented space heaters designed for outdoor use or by burning wood indoors in an unsafe manner.
Not only can that give the person who does it carbon monoxide poisoning, it can start a fire that can spread to other apartments or nearby buildings, he said.
“People, when they’re very, very cold, don’t always make good choices when they try to get warm,” Springe said.
The Cold Weather Rule prohibits utilities from starting shutoff procedures unless the low temperature is expected to be above 35 degrees for at least the next 48 hours. They can’t complete a disconnection of power or gas if the temperature is forecast to be 35 or less in the next 24 hours.
Also, the utility must contact the customer by phone or in person 24 hours before turning off service.
The rule remains in effect through March 31.
Customers who have trouble paying their bills should call their utility to invoke the Cold Weather Rule. The utility is required to set up a payment plan to spread the debt over the next 11 months, officials said.